Churchill Downs: First Facility For Legal Sports Betting in Kentucky?
Legislators are currently discussing and considering making sports gambling legal in Kentucky, and Churchill Downs looks like it might be the first location to offer sports betting if the state legalizes the activity.
The racetrack opened its $65 million Derby City Gaming facility last Friday in Louisville. The 85,000 square-foot venue has 900 instant racing machines that are like slot machines, but instead show the results of past horse races, surrounding 50-seat sports bar with many TV screens. And that’s not all; the facility could be opening a $125 million location near Hopkinsville.
Earlier in September, Churchill Downs and Keeneland racetrack, located in Lexington, applied for permission to operate the proposed facility. The plans indicate that it would open in 2020 and have a 125-room hotel and 1,500 instant racing machines.
Preparing for Legalized Sports Betting?
The racetrack officials won’t say if they’re planning for the legalization of casino gaming or sports betting in the Bluegrass State, but Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery told the Courier Journal that the company “is open for dialogue on any issue that’s good for the thoroughbred industry.” He went on to say,
“We’re just concentrating on what we can do today, which is run great live racing at the racetrack and have great historical racing here at Derby City Gaming.”
Gambling Critics in Kentucky
People against legalized gambling say there’s no chance that Churchill Downs is doing this for any reason other than to put themselves in the position to be the first facility to offer sports betting if it is legalized for on-site sports gambling. The Family Foundation of Kentucky is an advocacy group that is against the expansion of all gambling in the state. Martin Cothran, the senior policy analyst and spokesperson for the conservative advocacy group, said:
“They’re betting that the legislature is going to pass this and there’s a chance they’re right. They apparently have enough money themselves from people who have lost wages…to build facilities that are a little bit of a gamble for them.”
Legalized Gambling Supporters in Kentucky
The Courier Journal also spoke with two gambling enthusiasts on the opening day for Derby City Gaming. Norma Mitchell, who waited an hour and a half to get in, proclaimed that Kentucky and Louisville should reap the benefits that other states are getting from legalized gambling. Another gambler who also waited to get in, Larry Adams, said that he would like to see Derby City Gaming be able to offer other table games as well.
Current Gambling Status in Kentucky
Right now, the state’s Constitution makes gambling illegal except lotteries run by charities and the state. A 1931 court case decision made it legal for parimutuel wagering on horse races. As of right now, there is no proposed legislation to legalize sports gambling via a constitutional amendment.
Democratic candidate for the Governor’s position, Andy Beshear, has proposed that the income from legal casinos and sports betting could help bolster Kentucky’s public pension system. Depending on where sports betting could be allowed, such as at casinos and racetracks in addition to online and lottery sales locations, much more revenue would come into the state’s coffers.
In August, the consulting group REMI released a report showing that Kentucky could pull in around $9.4 million in yearly revenue if sports betting was legalized for on-site locations, including convenience stores and gas stations. Legal casinos would increase that number to around $368 million, according to a Legislative Research Commission study from 10 years ago.
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